fly fishing for bass Devon

Sandeels, bass and opening time for saltwater fly fishing

Looking to fly fish the sea this year? The right time and tides to give it a try are fast approaching, reports Chris Ogborne, who highlights a key change period in the fly fishing year – when saltwater temperatures hit the magic double figures!

This week saw one of the key milestones in my sea fishing year. Our local weather forecast guru told the West of England that sea temperatures had reached double figures. Knowing that the estuary is always a little bit warmer, I took the thermometer down to the beach and sure enough, the magic 11 degree mark is registering.

sea bass on the fly
Along with the sand eels come the bass. Good news for the fly fisher, but you MUST currently release any you catch under law.

It’s uncanny and just a little bit mysterious, but  for a few years now 11 degrees is and has been for years the signal for the estuary to come to life , marking the ideal time of the year to start thinking about fly fishing in saltwater. To prove it I went up to Wadebridge and yes, there are Grey Mullet under the town bridge.  They weren’t there yesterday but now, as if someone had flicked a switch, here they are.
mullet fishing Devon
Mullet are one thing but Bass are another.  There are early bass in the estuary right now and  the numbers build as they come in hunting sand eels all summer long, but even this predictable behaviour has a cycle.  The first to arrive are the little bootlace sand eels, the ones you see in the their hundreds along the shoreline.  They’re here right now, providing food not just for the fish but also for the myriad of sea birds setting up home along the cliffs.  The arrival couldn’t be better timed.

Next in will be the main run of summer sand eels, the staple food item of so many fish and arguably the ultimate bait for Bass and most sport fish.  These eels are between four and six inches long, packed full of protein, and crucial to the survival and breeding success of most sea birds.  They normally show in Cornwall in early May, although with the mild winter and slightly higher temperatures it looks as though this could  be early this year

Sand eels Devon fishing
Early sandeels tend to be the “bootlace” eels. Imitate these with smaller patterns.

Close on the heels of the summer eels will be the fabled Launce, or Giant Sand Eels.  These guys are huge, often well over a foot in length and regarded by serious sea anglers as the ultimate bait for many specimen fish.  Big Pollack love them, as do so many species, and they are a must-have bait for a days boat fishing.  They’re also fun to catch, and we always have a lot of fun with clients catching a supply on feathers at the start of most days afloat.  It also gives anglers that rather satisfying feeling of catching your own bait – it feels that somehow you’re more deserving of the big fish you catch with them!

But of course, for most of you reading this blog, there is only one way to fish once our saltwater predators are on the chase, and that is to try fly fishing with an imitation sandeel! You could get at the vice with a selection of tinsels and fibres to tie some sandeel patterns, or indeed buy some proven ready made fly patterns. Whichever way suits you, Turrall have an excellent range of saltwater tying materials, as well as a range of deadly sand eel imitations in a wide range of sizes and colours (search for these under the Turrall name, or shop online with one of our recommended retailers HERE):

Sandeel flies for sea bass

My advice would be to use the bootlace patterns in the spring and early summer from beach or rocks, and then move up to the summer sand eel fly patterns in a few weeks time.  If you have the chance of some rock hopping over deeper water then bring out the eight weight sinking line and use the Launce patterns from June onward.

One final word of warning about bass however: Current legislation means that it is currently illegal to kill any bass you catch, even if it is above minimum size. We would always recommend practising catch and release tactics anyway, because bass stocks are precious. But please don’t be tempted to take one for the table until the ban is lifted- because it could be a costly mistake.
Naturally, many other species also eat sand eels and these flies work brilliantly for so many other fish.  Pollack, garfish, mackerel and wrasse have all been caught on these patterns, which are just part of Turrall’s selection of brilliant flies for sea fish, so give them a try this year.  There is fantastic sport to be had!

Mackerel on the fly, saltwater fly fishing UK

Chris Ogborne runs guided saltwater fly fishing sessions in Cornwall throughout the summer. For further info see his website HERE.

For more tips, giveaways and fly patterns for fresh and saltwater fishing alike, keep an eye on the Turrall Flies Facebook page.

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